Putin tells World Cup fans they can return to Russia without a visa until end of 2018

Move to offer visa-free access for holders of Fan ID cards could herald easing of red tape

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 16 July 2018 13:05 BST
World Cup fans can return to Russia without a visa

Hundreds of thousands of football fans who visited Russia for the World Cup have been handed a parting gift by Vladimir Putin: the freedom to return to the world’s biggest country without a visa, any time before the end of the year.

Visiting supporters could avoid Russia’s complex and expensive visa requirements by obtaining a document called a Fan ID. It could be obtained online in a few minutes by anyone with a match ticket (or, it later became clear, the number of an expired match ticket belonging to someone else).

The last date for admission under the Fan ID scheme was 15 July, the day of the final, with fans able to stay for a further 10 days.

But the state-controlled website Sputnik News is reporting that Russia will provide visa-free re-admission to the country for football fans with Fan IDs for the rest of the year.

It quotes President Putin as saying: “I think that we will provide visa-free entrance to Russia for foreign fans, who currently have Fan IDs, until the end of 2018. This will be a multiple entry visa-free regime.”

Intriguingly, the leader also expressed the hope that fans will take advantage of this opportunity and “come to Russia more than once with friends and members of their families”. This suggests that holders may be able to bring others without their need to apply for a visa.

It is not clear when such a directive could come into effect. But the move could presage a reduction in red tape for tourists seeking to visit Moscow and St Petersburg, and to explore Russia’s vast hinterland.

At present British travellers face a much tougher process than in the days of the Soviet Union. Applicants must go in person to a visa centre in London, Manchester or Edinburgh to be photographed.

Visas are outsourced to a company called VFS Global. The firm recommends that applicants do not making any firm bookings before their visa is is approved – but also concedes that tourists need confirmation that they have paid for travel arrangements in advance.

The visa costs can amount to almost as much as the air fare. A single-entry visa costs £108 (with the warning “processing time may take minimum 20 working days”), while an “urgent” application – taking three working days – is £187.

Many prospective British travellers are deterred by the cost and complexity, and easyJet dropped flights from both Gatwick and Manchester to Moscow because it could not attract enough UK passengers.

According to Foreign Office figures, the small ex-Soviet Baltic republics of Estonia and Latvia together attract far more British visitors each year than the whole of Russia: 257,000 against 177,000.

The tournament has brought many economic and social benefits to Russia, especially in the provincial host cities such as Kaliningrad, Nizhny Novgorod and Sochi.

Neil Taylor, a pioneering tour operator to the USSR, said: “Local tourism people will point out that hundreds of thousands of people came to Russia visa-free and they gave no problems – so why not follow the Ukrainians after Eurovision who never bothered to revive visas?”

As the World Cup entered its final stages, The Independent predicted that one lasting benefit could be easier access for travellers to Russia.

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